On Elvis Costello

I know what you’re all thinking: “Well, it’s about time, CK!” I can’t disagree with you. While I have been busy with the usual family stuff, with my other writing engagements (Quick plug: Check out American Songwriter and my alter ego, Jim Beviglia, and stay tuned for a big announcement concerning one of my previous lists), and with general laziness, I do miss rolling up my sleeves and getting into a new list. So I’m happy to announce that we’ll be starting up a new one beginning tomorrow.

So why Elvis Costello? Well, if I had a personal Mount Rushmore of songwriters, it would include Lennon/McCartney, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Elvis Costello. I have always thought it was a travesty that E.C. didn’t gain as much popularity as the others, but I can assure you, having compiled this list, his song catalog is just as deep and impressive.

What’s more, he has amassed that catalog by constantly changing and evolving, fearlessly trying new things even when some of his fans might have preferred him to rewrite This Year’s Model for thirty years running. Yet unlike Dylan, who seemed to take on new personalities at different points in his career, Costello has imbued all of these distinct genres with his own songwriting personality.

But I’ll get to all of the accolades as the list goes on. First, a few notes. When putting this list together, I did include a lot of songs that weren’t included on original studio album releases. Again, like Dylan, the sheer amount and quality of these songs, which have been available on re-releases and reissues of the original albums for many, many years, were just too impactful to be ignored. The only rule was that Elvis had to have released his own version of the song at some point, even if it was just a demo.

As with the other artists I have done, I did not include songs E.C. recorded that were written by other artists. Elvis has done a lot of great cover versions through the years, so this was a tough loss, but he has more than enough self-written material to compensate.

Finally, I want to warn everyone that I cannot promise a specific amount of entries per day. When I did my Dylan countdown, it was the only thing on my writing plate, so I could devote lots of time to it. My other countdowns were already, for the most part, complete; I just edited them and added them to the site, so, again, it was easy for me to put a handful out a day. This countdown is brand new and I will be writing it and posting it all at once, so, because of the other stuff I mentioned above that occasionally places constraints on my time, there will be some days when I will be lucky to get one or two in. But I feel like it’s better to have the site active than to not write anything at all because I can’t promise a certain number. Be patient with me, and we’ll have a lot of fun with this list as we did all the others.

With that said, I’m really excited to get started. Tell your Costello fan friends about it; I’ll do some marketing of my own to try and bring some new readers aboard, as well. As always, I look forward to comments, even when you think I’m full of it or don’t know what I’m talking about. Talk to you all tomorrow, with #100 (and probably a few more) on the Elvis Costello countdown. And, of course, thanks for reading.

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10 Comments on “On Elvis Costello”

  1. wardo says:

    You beat me to it! Very much looking forward to your take on EC (and gnashing my teeth over your choices). Let it roll!

  2. Baggy says:

    Great to see an EC list. Granted he may not have achieved the heights of popularity of say a Bruce Springsteen, but from a UK perspective he knocks Tom Petty into a top hat any day ! Go Elvis, looking forward to the next few weeks..(and apologies to TP fans).

  3. John says:

    Been a huge fan of EC since 1986 when I bought the Columbia Greatest Hits. Then I bought Blood and Chocolate and soon proceeded to buy everything else and it has been a ritual ever since to buy his albums as soon as they are released. My freshman year of college was my EC year as I was listening to everything from My Aim is True to Blood and Chocolate for the first time…it was mind blowing to hear this wealth of material. The EC, REM and the Smiths collections all in 1987…it was great time for music discovery for me.
    Concur with your Mt Rushmore of songwriters as I have the four of them in my top six of favorite artists – the others being the Stones and REM, but from a pure songwriting view point my Mt Rushmore is the same as yours.
    Glad to see you are using the rhino double discs as they have an amazing amount of good songs that were previously unreleased/hard to find B-sides. It is criminal that these versions are almost out of print and they were released only 5-10 years ago. The current Hip-O albums have minimal liner notes and no bonus tracks with the exception of the expanded editions of the first two albums. Even the early 90s Ryko versions had bonus tracks and better liner notes.

    • countdownkid says:

      My indoctrination into Costello was a little later, about ’90 when a college roommate had Spike. Then I went back and found the rest. I agree about the Rhino reissues. It is a shame that newer fans of Elvis are missing out on that stuff, including his wonderful liner notes.

      Glad to hear our tastes are similar. And the Stones and R.E.M. are on my wish list for this site. If you check out American Songwriter’s web site, you can find a recent list that I did (with input from my editors) on the Best Stones Album tracks. You might get a kick out of it.

      • John says:

        Checked out your stones deep cuts lists…probably about half would be in my stones top 40. Shine a Light to me is a lost stones classic and possibly my favorite song off of Exile. For whatever reason this songs does not get much mention from stones fanantics…maybe because it is “un-stones like”. Checked out a lot of your other write-ups as well. Glad to see your interests go beyond the 60s -80s like mine, i.e. Rilo Kiley article…I rather enjoy this band.

      • countdownkid says:

        One note about the Stones list: While I wrote the essays, the ranking process was a collaboration between my editors and myself. I still would have had “Moonlight Mile” #1, but I would have had “Memory Motel” #2; I love that song and think it gets underrated because of who was on it. I still would have “Shine A Light” Top 5; it’s really moving while still being clear-eyed about how far gone Jones was. And I would have included a couple of their ballads from the 60’s, like “I Am Waiting” and “She Smiles Sweetly”; that’s a very underrated part of their career. Still, I understand where my editors where coming from by wanting it to be mroe of a consensus of the songs that have the biggest impact on a wide swath of Stones fans.

        I actually voraciously keep up with new music, in part because I have to review it for AS. The original intention for this site was to include reviews along with the lists, but that was before I got the AS gig, so I do all my reviews for them now. Good to hear that you like “Rilo Kiley.” I’m a sucker for that indie-country subgenre.

  4. Eric Mischel says:

    Jim,

    Thanks so much for this awesome list. I couldn’t agree more with your Singer/Songwriter Mount Rushmore four. Being a big EC fan it’s been a great deal of fun to read your musings and interpretations. Again, thank you for taking the time to share.

    Regards,
    Eric

    • countdownkid says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Eric. One of the many reasons that this list has been so much fun for me has been the wonderful reaction of the Costello fan base. It makes me happy to know there are so many fans out there just like me who feel he is way under-appreciated.

  5. David Crozier says:

    An impossible task, of course, but I’m surprised there was so little from North (‘Still’ seems a contender for the Top 10 to me let alone the Top 100) and I’m also surprised there was no place for ‘I Still Have That Other Girl’. Classic Costello when least expected, perhaps. Never mind – great fun and much enjoyed by this long-term fan over in the UK. And let’s be honest. We could argue about it for days!!!

    • countdownkid says:

      “Still” has been a popular selection by commenters among those songs left out. As I said in my write-up for North, I felt that a lot of those songs sort of blended together in a pretty, background music kind of way, but didn’t really stand out enough on their own. I like the album as a whole as a sum of its parts, which makes it different from most of the rest of the Costello catalog. “I Still Have That Other Girl” did get consideration; I feel the shift in the song from the quiet moments to the big crescendo is a bit uneasy, compared to the big moments of, say, “God Give Me Strength” and “Painted From Memory.”

      And, if you ask me, we could argue about it for months. Thanks for the kind words.


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